Intefadeh and Israel for Dumbbells
April 17, 2002
By Bernard Weiner
So much convoluted politics in the Middle East, so much history,
so much violence and hatred. It's all so confusing. So once
again I turn to the noted reference series for answers that
can help me make the turmoil and tragedy easier to figure
Q. Why can't there be at least a cease-fire between the Palestinians
and the Israelis?
A. Your question rests on an assumption that either or both
sides want peace. Maybe the majority of both peoples would
be amenable to peace, if it came with enough justice and security,
but the leaders have other agendas -- and right now, because
of all the wanton slaughter, have been able to bring a good
section of their frightened, angry peoples along with them.
In so doing, the Middle East is living in a soul blackout,
and there's no estimate on when moral power will be restored.
Let's get it straight. The bloody butcher Sharon doesn't
want a viable, truly independent Palestinian state next to
Israel. Never has, never will. He's willing to accept a pseudo-"Palestinian
state" on his border, but it would hardly be considered a
viable country, rather something more like a collection of
bantustans amidst all the Israeli settlements on the West
Bank and Gaza. Each of those little Palestinian enclaves effectively
would then have to deal with Israel on their own, ensuring
Israeli domination and control of the area -- in short, continued
hegemony over land promised to the Palestinians for their
state. That's why Sharon has spent the past several weeks
utterly and totally destroying the Palestinian political and
actual infrastructure. Whatever Arafat will eventually be
President of, this Israeli views goes, it won't be worth having.
And, Israel believes, it will have bought itself a good block
of time until it once again has to worry about a unified,
majorly re-armed Palestinian enemy.
The former PLO terrorist Arafat at one time may have been
willing to consider a two-state deal, but when it became apparent
over the decade since the Oslo agreement that Israel had no
intention of following through and granting Palestine anything
close to justice and territorial/political integrity, he began
to re-think: Maybe it's time to pressure Israel through a
re-activation of the intifadeh, except this time with a more
violent component. Plus, Arafat, who likes to think of himself
as the one true leader of the Palestinian people, was being
pressured by the extreme Palestinian nationalists like Hamas
and Islamic Jihad, who believed they could, and would, militarily
drive Israel into the sea. These groups (with Osama bin Laden
out there as a spiritual force, belittling Arafat as a corrupt
individual who couldn't lead his people into anything but
poverty and ruin), and the other Arab states not lifting much
of an open finger in helping the Palestinians, fueled Arafat's
desire to reclaim his leadership status in the Arab Middle
East. All this may help explain his support for the suicide-bombing
campaign, the one weak link in the Israeli security armor.
Absent the Israeli reaction to those bombings, Arafat probably
would have become even more irrelevant as a Palestinian leader
-- but Sharon turned him into a hero among Palestinians and
ordinary Arabs throughout the region.
Q. Is Arafat gambling that the other Arab states will be
forced to come in on the Palestinian side, for a final, all-out
A. He may be putting all his chips on this last hand, but,
if so, he'd have been better off cashing in while he could.
No Arab state, at least as presently governed, will do anything
to provoke the Israelis to attack their countries. These Arab
states may agree with the Palestinian cause, and may even
do things under the table to aid the Palestinians, but they
know what would happen to them if they openly attacked Israel,
the strongest and most-determined military regime in the neighborhood:
They'd be wiped out, either by the Israelis immediately or,
after military defeat, by their own people as a result of
having their governments overthrown. Which gets us back to
the phrase "as presently governed": Several of these "moderate"
Arab rulers -- in, say, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, etc.
-- might be overthrown anyway by Islamicist mobs, if Israel
continues its brutal campaign on the West Bank, with nobody
willing or able to stop them.
Q. The United States, the United Nations, the Pope, worldwide
opinion, etc. is opposed to Israel's current military campaign.
Why isn't this enough to get Sharon to back off?
A. It must be clear by now that the U.S. -- having inflated
anti-terrorist rhetoric for its own war -- is in no position
(even if it wanted to) to dictate to Sharon that he should
stop in his campaign to break the back of Mideast terror networks.
Sharon right now is the tail that's wagging the dog. Since
Bush has no intention of getting further sucked into the Mideast
quagmire, and neither the U.S. or U.N., despite all their
calls for a cease-fire, seems interested in building a serious
international coalition to force a ceasefire and political
negotiations, the Israeli military campaign will continue
until Sharon feels he's caused as much damage as he can to
the Palestinians' capacity to govern a destroyed infrastructure.
Q. But surely both sides can see that the other side isn't
going to disappear and that military solutions will never
get them what they want -- peace, security, control of their
own territory -- so why can't they call a halt in the violence
and get back to the political negotiating table?
A. Of course they know that, but they don't want to accept
that. Each believes, if they keep the military pressure up
just a little while longer, the other side will capitulate
and simply vanish. Of course it's insane, but that's what
is going on. Plus, see Answer #1 above. Plus: Ever see two
boys fighting in the school yard? "You started it first!"
"No, you did!" "No, you started it!" And so on. Until someone
comes along and separates them, and forces them to some serious
reflection -- in this case, to recognize that going over the
history again and again of who started what when is not productive
-- they will continue in this everlasting cycle of historical
Both sides also know roughly what the final solution will
look like: something like the Saudi proposal, with Israel
being recognized as a legitimate state with normalized relations
with its Arab neighbors; Israel pulling out of the Occupied
Territories, including abandoning its settlements; a viable
Palestine state being created out of the contiguous territory
in the West Bank and Gaza (and perhaps even part of Jordan);
a shared Jerusalem, presided over by an international body;
perhaps international peacekeepers in between the two equal
states; Israel permitting a certain limited number of Palestinians
to return to their ancestral homes and farms inside Israel
and paying reparations to others not permitted to return,
etc. But knowing what the ultimate solution will look like
and being able to get there are two very different things.
Q. What will it take to get on the road to that final peace
settlement? Will Sharon and Arafat have to go?
A. Unless the United States and United Nations and other
interested international parties intervene to help develop
the mechanisms for peace -- and there's no real movement beyond
rhetoric in this area -- and unless the two sides themselves
come to realize the futility of their present behavior patterns,
one can expect nothing but continued slaughter for years and
years. At that point, new leaders will emerge, probably younger,
who will have the courage to say, finally, enough is enough,
and let's sit down and seriously talk. But that means untold
amounts of carnage, hatred, revenge cycles, suicide bombers,
colonial repression, and so on. That's why the current moment
needs to be seized in the name of peace. If the old warriors
cannot make the peace -- and it certainly doesn't look like
they can at the moment -- others will have to do it for them.
Devoid of a current movement toward peace, all we can expect
is a continuing slide into moral darkness and slaughter on
a scale heretofore unthinkable.
Bernard Weiner, a poet and playwright, holds a Ph.D. in
government & international relations, and has taught at San
Diego State University and Western Washington University.